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Published March 17, 2013, 12:01 AM

Local travelers weigh in on necessities for adventure travel

If you go looking for Tom Smith or Rollie Johnson while they’re on vacation, you’re probably not going to find either man relaxing in a comfortable hotel.

If you go looking for Tom Smith or Rollie Johnson while they’re on vacation, you’re probably not going to find either man relaxing in a comfortable hotel.

Instead, look for them on the slope of a mountain, in the middle of the wilderness or out seeking adventure somewhere they’ve never been before.

Smith, co-owner of Great Northern Bicycle Co. in Fargo, and Johnson, the director of contemporary ministry and men’s ministry at First Lutheran Church in Fargo, are experienced “adventure” travelers, always opting for a challenging trip over an easy one.

Smith makes several trips a year with friends, family and even a group of local adventure aficionados. His travels are an impressive list: Climbing Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Andes, this year, sailing from Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands in 2011, trekking around Panama in 2010, and on and on.

Johnson, too, has done extensive traveling, often going on canoeing trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, or rock climbing in Taylor’s Falls, Minn. Johnson’s trips are often with family and friends, though he also leads a group of church youth on trips every year as well.

With winter slowly transitioning into spring and the opportunities for travel becoming more accessible, Smith and Johnson recently weighed in what people need to do to have a successful adventure trip, and why people should take such a trip at all.

With food and supplies, travel light

Though their experiences have been different, both Smith and Johnson agree that there are certain preparations that must be made before any trip, no matter the destination or activity.

To begin, one important aspect is planning out the food that you’ll need for your trip, keeping in mind how long you expect the trip to be and how many people will be joining you.

“Food preparation and planning would be huge,” Johnson says. “Of course, that’s totally dependent on what kind of trip you’re taking.”

Additionally, whether you’re going backpacking or bicycling, you’ll need to make a list of all the supplies that you’ll need. These would include the tents, stoves and other equipment you might use, but also the clothes and other personal supplies that you’d take.

Most important of all, Smith says, is to pack light.

“Recognize what the products you need are going to be,” he says. “Realize that you have to move quickly and easily.”

Do your research

Beyond the specific items that you’ll need, there’s plenty of other general planning that needs to be done as well to make sure you’re ready to go.

“Think about the logistics of transportation, planning your route, things like that,” Johnson says.

The Internet, Smith says, can be a valuable resource for someone planning this kind of a trip. Anything from expert sites to amateur blogs can contain useful information.

“The Internet has provided so many things – so much is at your fingertips,” he says. “The way you plan is changed.”

“There are tons of books out there, lots of Internet references,” Johnson adds. “Do your homework.”

Once you’ve planned out your trip but before you actually depart, make sure that someone knows where you’ll be going in case of an emergency, Johnson says.

Specifically, think about things like entry and exit points of your travels, and the dates of when you expect you’ll be at certain places.

“Lay out a plan, and leave that plan with somebody back home,” Johnson says.

If you’ve never done any planning for an adventure trip before and it all seems like a lot of work, don’t worry. Depending on your experience level, there are guide services designed to help you have a successful trip.

And if you’re a complete novice, that shouldn’t deter you either. There are plenty of options to gain skills and experience training before setting off on your trip.

For that reason, Smith and Johnson say there’s no reason why someone should avoid doing a trip like this.

“I think everyone can do it,” Smith says.

Be open to new experiences

In the end, no matter how much preparation you do beforehand, you shouldn’t expect your trip to be completely without surprises.

“Each wilderness trip has hurdles and obstacles, things that don’t go the way they planned,” Johnson says.

But that element of the unexpected is also what makes these kinds of trips so valuable, he says. It forces people to go out of their comfort zone where they’re more likely to learn new things about themselves.

“It’s a huge self-discovery experience,” Johnson says. “A wilderness trip both reveals character and builds character.”

Whether it’s mountain climbing or anything else, “so much of what we find rewarding is the process of discovery on your own,” Smith adds.

And that’s not to mention the simple benefits of getting away from work and unplugging from Facebook and Twitter.

“To spend eight days in a wilderness, you’re separating yourself from cellphones, from computers, from televisions,” Johnson says. “For me and the kids I take, it’s gigantic because it gives people time to think, a time to find out who they are.”

So if you’ve been putting off the idea of the kind of adventure trip Johnson and Smith take, the two men say just do it already.

“Everyone’s got that adventure in the back of your mind,” Smith says. “Everyone’s got that bucket list.”

“Go for it,” Johnson adds. “Most people say, ‘I’m going to do that someday.’ But they never get around to it. So, go for it.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535

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